Over the last few years there seems to have developed a dichotomy within running shoes. There are traditionals and minimalists. Without getting too much into the debate, there are generally two, sometimes awkwardly heated, schools of thought. Those in favour of minimalist shoes believe in the the promotion of the more natural and efficient running form that being barefoot would promote. Lines like the New Balance Minimus and the cultist Vibram Fivefingers, encourage proper form by forcing more mid-forefoot striking and by allowing greater flex and movement. Running barefoot is thought to be the best way to learn how to run properly and thus move smoother, faster and with less injuries.
Traditional running shoes, such as the Asics Kayano or Brooks Adrenaline ranges, are founded upon reducing shock and stabilising the foot in optimal positions. While flexibility and reducing weight iare important factors, the reality is that all of the foams, glues, fabrics, rubbers and plastics make traditional shoes heavier, stiffer and, generally more cumbersome for runners. Another main aspect of traditionals is the large drop, which is the difference in thickness of the midsole from heel to toe. Generally, the midsole under the heel is much thicker than that of the toe - usually 10-14mm thicker, to allow for minimal shock when the heel strikes the ground. Of course, without the plush padding and support that traditional shoes offer, there’s a lot more impact on the feet, bones and joints. Reality is that for those that are overweight, or are unable to (learn how to) run with proper form, minimalist shoes can lead to a lot of damage and pain.
So, again, the Pure project addresses this by finding an optimal balance between the two by being softer and more supporting than true barefoot runners, but lighter, more flexible and with a lower drop, allowing for a more natural foot strike than the traditional. The Pure Project consists of several models, depending on where you are on the minimalist scale. Starting at the “barely there” side is the PureDrift, the lightest, most flexible of the bunch. At the other end is my favourite running shoe for the last 2 years is the PureCadence, these fill all the criteria for a minimalist shoe (light, flexible, low drop) but still with a good amount of cushioning and support. The idea is that anything beyond this is a traditional Brooks runner. Then, there’s the PureGrit. Another Pure Project entry, but tailored for those that love the harsh, uneven, rocky, dirty and potentially wet trails. I’ve had them for about a month now and after a about 30 kms worth of off-road workouts, here’s how they’ve been going. This is my review of the Brooks PureGrit 3s.
- BioMogo DNA midsole providing adaptive cushioning
- 4mm heel-toe drop to encourage midfoot striking and proper form
- Ideal Heel, rounded heel cradle for better alignment and transition
- Ballistic Rock Shield protecting feet from trail hazards
- Nav-band to wrap midfoot securely
- Aggressive 3D Hex lugs for maximum tread
- Weighs 280 grams (9.9 ounces)
- Suited for neutral pronators with medium to high arches
- About 4 separate sessions in a month ranging from 4 to 8 km
- Rocks, timber steps, dirt road, bouldered trails
- 100m elevation change per km
- Grass running track for mile test
- Very dry and dusty, no mud or wet work.
- 2 years and over 1000km in the Brooks PureCadence
The first thing I noticed about the PureGrits were how much more solid and less plush they feel compared to the PureCadence. The lugs under the very rugged outsole are noticeable upon first wear -- at least for someone who hasn’t worn a trailrunner before. There is also a Rock Shield under the forefoot, which is new to these 3rd editions. The aggressive outsole, hexl lugs and Rock Shield make for an incredibly solid and convincingly protective feeling shoe. They hold up very well up on the trails. My local routes involve steep, rocky climbs combined with timber or demolished boulder steps. On impact I could feel enough to establish a sure footing with solid traction, but still was able to maintain a smooth ride with minimal shock.
One thing that I noticed wasn’t as prominent relative to the PureCadence was the heel-toe drop. Although it’s listed as a 4mm drop, the “Ideal Heel” contour isn’t as dramatic as the PureCadence, which means that the compared to the Cadence, the Grits have my heels sitting noticeably higher than my forefoot. I’m not sure if this is objectively good or bad, but I definitely feel more inclined to strike more forward in my foot in the Cadence than in the Grits. On flatter terrain, I have to be a bit more conscious not to heel-strike than I would like. That being said, there’s still plenty of that springy nature because of the encouraged midfoot landing that minimal running shoes are known for.
Speaking of bounce, BioMogo midsole remains as a very substantial, yet middle of the range cushioning system. They’re soft, but not too soft, and focus mostly on absorbing impact and offering a smooth ride rather than being plush or bouncy. It always comes down to personal fit, but I have always scored Nike’s Zoom or Lunar systems (i.e., Pegasus, Structure, Lunargildes, etc) as too soft or bouncy to the point of feeling as my feet were wobbling on impact. BioMogo was always a bit firmer than these, but not nearly as firm as Mizuno’s Wave (i.e., Rider).
Of course, when talking about trail shoes, tread is an important factor. The 3D hex lugs, are very aggressive, though are not cut sharply like most trail treads are. Their shape is symmetrical in all directions (hexagonal) which means they do not seem to be geared toward any specific direction - forward in particular. The rubber is also very tactile indicate excellent grip. The result is a very confident landing on trails, as the lugs dig into any surface securely and with good balance. However, compared to the more traditional teeth-like treads on other runners, these don’t necessarily grab the trail and launch you forward. Perhaps this is another deliberate move to encourage proper form and more natural movement.
The upper scores well in terms of fit. I haven’t experienced any friction hot spots, and foot feels very securely wrapped and helps within the show and above the midsole as it should. Ventilation is excellent as well. I was weary of how the bottom of my feet would feel. I live in a very hot, dry-tropical climate so heat is a big concerned. This morning’s 90 minute session was in 33C or 90F, which made for a pretty exhausting hill climb, but I’m happy to say that neither breathability, moisture or temperature posed problems. I’m not entirely sold on the Nav-band however. I’m skeptical of how much a one inch strip of elastic can help lock things in place, and with the PureGrits, the band is a bit too long and bunches when I lace up. Still, the upper fits very comfortably, at worst, this band may be inaffectual.
There is one issue with the upper which I consider more significant, and that is the tongue stitching. The majority of running shoes structure the tongue of the shoe with either a centre-loop on the centre for the crossing of laces to fit through, or have the sides of the tongue attached to the upper. The purpose of either of these is to ensure the tongue stays where it should, above the centre of the foot. The PureGrit3’s don’t have this. The tongue is only attached at its base which means that it’s rather easy for the tongue to slip down to either side of the foot and shoe. For me, they slip to the lateral sides. It doesn’t seem to happen often so it’s not that big of a deal. But once or twice on each of my runs I had to stop to pull the tongue up. It’s not a major drama as it doesn’t cause pain of any kind, the materials are so soft that the foot stays securely and snugly wrapped. It doesn’t cause any pain or anything, It’s just really annoying.
One of the reasons I’ve gone so long without giving trail running a go is because I haven’t been able to find a shoe I felt comfortable with. I have always had a hard time purchasing runners that would only really be useful for the trails, and then still needing a road pair. Traditional runners have always felt too heavy, firm or stiff to make for a good road run. I never liked the idea of having shoes for trails and different shoes for roads. I’m not a competitor - I love running because of how simple it is and how little is needed. That being said, taking the leap with a trail shoe from the Pure Project left me pleasantly surprised. I’m confident in these not just as a trail shoe, but as a road runner as well. They’re light enough and soft enough for the roads but strong enough for the woods.
At the end of the day, the PureGrit 3s make an excellent trail runner - minimalist or otherwise. In fact I would recommend these as an all-purpose general training runner rather than just for off-road trekking. They’re light enough. soft enough and offer plenty of support for road sessions, with the added bonus of protection and traction for harsh terrains full of dirt, rocks, mud and hills. If you’re in the market for one shoe that are smooth and fast enough for the roads but rugged enough for the rocks, the PureGrit 3s might be just what you’re looking for.